Perhaps they were focused on the championship game and therefore did not take their opponents seriously. After all most fans including myself expected a rematch between Stanford and UConn which was won by Stanford earlier in the season. That game ended UConn’s winning streak.
In any case, Notre Dame and Texas A&M came to Indianapolis not only to play but to win. On Sunday night the two underdog teams took to the hardwood with a indomitable spirit that has lifted the women’s game to a new level. Despite the women’s game still remaining below the rim, by adding the athleticism with fundamentals it places women college basketball in a category that is not quite on par with men but never-the-less a plus. Surely the above the rim play is exciting, but when you add the below the rim athleticism with the fundamentals, the game becomes analytically exhilarating. It captivates the mind, body and soul. Captivation is exactly what happened last night at the Conseco Field House.
The first contest of the evening was Stanford against Texas A&M. Stanford, one of the No. 1 seeds in the tournament, had not lost since Dec. 19 at Tennessee, 82-72 in overtime. It was on Dec. 30 that Stanford ended Connecticut’s record 90-game winning streak. On Sunday in front of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, perhaps their biggest fan, the Cardinals shot 50 percent. However, they were undone by 22 turnovers which Texas AM capitalized on with 21 points.
Stanford still had the lead until the final minute. With 9.2 seconds left, Stanford regained the lead at 62-61 after Nnemkadi Ogwumike bulldozed her way in for a lay-up. That layup added to her game-high of 31 points. The only other Stanford player in double figures was Jeanette Pohlen with 11 points. Pohlen left the game with an apparent leg injury coming immediately after a decisive basket shot by Tyra White with 3.3 seconds left. Stanford’s inbounds pass was intercepted ending the 27 games winning streak and a shot at winning the national championship.
“We had them down, and we didn’t knock them out,” said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer who coached Stanford to NCAA titles in 1990 and ’92. “Their defense was extremely disruptive. They worked very hard…. This is really tough for our team.”
“They just got the rhythm,” said Stanford senior Kayla Pedersen, whose team was hurt by Melanie Murphy and Chiney Ogwumike fouling out. “We did our best. We had our plays set up, but it just didn’t work out.”
The final score which was stunningly close was 63-62.
In the second game of the evening, the UConn Huskies were seeking their third straight national championship and their eighth overall, which would have tied the NCAA record in the respective categories. It would have also given graduating senior Maya Moore the only goal she had yet to accomplish: winning another national championship. However, the fighting Irish of Notre Dame had some plans of their own.
The game was a rematch of the 2001 national semifinal in St. Louis where the Fighting Irish defeated UConn 90-75 en route to winning their only national championship.
On the shoulders of Maya Moore, the Huskies closed the first half with in 11-2 run. They led 34-26 with 17:56 left in the game and in Husky fashion it appeared they were ready to distance themselves form the Irish.
It was far from over. Notre Dame rallied with seven straight points in a 21-6 run and took the 47-40 lead on a pair of free throws by Natalie Novosel with 9:42 left. UConn went 2:20 without a field goal and was scoreless for 3:27. Trailing 61-49 with 5:14 left, Moore answered with a personal 13-2 run to pull the Huskies to within 63-60 with 2:26 left.
Notre Dame did not falter. Novosel responded with a jumper and Irish All-American Skylar Diggins followed with a steal and a driving layup to push the lead back to seven with 1:35 left.
Diggins 28 points and six assists helped carry Notre Dame to a 72-63 victory before 16,421 at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The victory denied Maya Moore, the most decorated player in Husky history the chance at winning another national championship.
In addition to Diggins 28 points, Natalie Novosel finished with 22 points and four rebounds for Notre Dame. Devereaux Peters had eight points and seven rebounds.
Bria Hartley added 10 points and three assists for UConn. Stefanie Dolson had seven points and four rebounds. Kelly Faris had four points, seven rebounds and five assists. Tiffany Hayes scored four points.
Maya Moore had 36 points, eight rebounds and four steals for the Huskies. Moore scored 16 of the final 18 points for UConn. The tenacious Ms. Moore finished her 150-4 career with two national championships and an NCAA record 90-game winning streak. Further the Academic All-American who also plays a mean set of drums will graduate with a 3.7 grade point average.
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